A new inmate is terrified at his surroundings and when the lights go out, the terror hits home. And all he can do is scream out, “I don’t belong here. Not me. There’s been a terrible mistake.” This is a scene from the classic movie, Shawshank Redemption. “I don’t belong here...There’s been a terrible mistake.” These are sentiments that many of us know deeply in our hearts. “This marriage wasn’t what I thought it would be, but divorced, I don’t belong here.” “This job seemed so promising, but now I can’t find the energy to make it to work; there must have been some mistake.” “My children seem so distant, and act as if I don’t exist; this can’t be happening to me.” When moments are bleak many find solace in turning to quotes and proverbs for inspiration. One of the most popular phrases that people love to turn to is this one from Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’.” This is truly an encouraging phrase, and the even better news is that it actually means something different than what we expect; something far better than we could imagine.
To understand the greater meaning of this phrase we need to do a brief history of Israel. The purpose of Israel, the people of God, was to be a nation that would receive the blessing of God and then, in turn, bless all nations. The prime location for this to take place was the promised land. Israel was delivered out of slavery in Egypt and was given the promised land. The promised land was located at the intersection of several major trade routes of the ancient world. Israel was to be in the promised land living under God’s rule and receiving and giving the blessing of God to others; this was to be a win-win situation for everyone. But Israel doesn’t obey God, doesn’t seek to be a blessing to the other nations, and so God removes them from this promised land.
The people of Israel literally know that they don’t belong “here,” outside of the land that God promised them. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. They are to be in the promised land. While they are in exile they get a letter from the prophet Jeremiah who has some words for them. Part of his letter has the inspiring quote, “For I know the plans I have for you…” but before that Jeremiah has shocking advice for them. He writes, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’” This is shocking because God is telling them not to wallow and wish for some miracle way back to the promised land; he is saying to make this place the promised land. When God later says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.” It’s the same word that is used earlier for seeking the “peace and prosperity” of the city. God wants them to have peace, and it comes as they seek the peace of their “new” city.
For Cobblestone Church, this is to be the guiding light in our current reality. I’m sure there are plenty of times when we look around and think that this isn’t what it is supposed to be. In these moments we are to seek the peace and prosperity of our community however we can for it is in the community's peace that we find our own. This is why we do things like community groups - to create space for each other and others to experience a safe place to explore and grow in the faith. This is why we built a memorial play set - in memory of past loved ones, and as a gift to the community for the peace and prosperity of families all around.
For those seeking and exploring the faith we invite you to join us in this journey. If you find yourself at a place where you feel like you don’t belong, know that you belong here because Jesus Christ, who didn’t belong on a cross, chose to endure it out of his deep love for you and me, for your peace and my own.